When Islamists defend democracy

With democracy at stake in Iraq and Tunisia, top Islamists are rising to its defense.

Reuters
A female employee of Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission delivers voter cards in Basra, Iraq, for an Oct. 10 election.

It says something about progress in the Middle East that top Islamist leaders in Iraq and Tunisia are crying out for democracy in their Muslim countries. Their public faith in individual liberties and rights is a timely counterpoint to the hardening of Islamist rule in Iran and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a highly influential religious authority, has called on voters to shed their apathy and participate “consciously and responsibly” in crucial parliamentary elections Oct. 10. “Make a good choice, otherwise the failures of the previous parliaments and the governments emanating from them will be repeated,” he said Sept. 29, referring to political leaders elected after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that planted democracy in Iraq.

The election, he added, is the best path for Iraq to “reach a hopefully better future than the past, and through which the risk of falling into the abyss of chaos and political stalemate will be avoided.”

While Mr. Sistani does not support parties or candidates, he advised voters to select a candidate in their districts who is the “most honest, who is interested in the sovereignty, security, and prosperity of Iraq.” His reference to “sovereignty” may be a call to rid Iraq of foreign influence, especially that of Iran and the United States.

In Tunisia, where a democracy sprang up during the 2011 Arab Spring, the leading Islamist party, Ennahda, has led calls to reverse a power grab by President Kais Saied. In July, the former law professor suspended parliament and seized near-total power, claiming the government was in political gridlock. Although he promised his actions were temporary, he has since cracked down on opposition and added to his powers. Ennahda’s leader, Rached Ghannouchi, who is Tunisia’s leading Islamist politician and the speaker of parliament, said the president had effectively “canceled the constitution.”

On Sept. 29, Ennahda called on all political and civil society groups to “defend representative democracy” through “all forms of peaceful struggle.” On Oct. 1, police blocked dozens of members of parliament from entering the legislature.

Many people in the Mideast who live under an authoritarian or strict Islamic ruler are probably aware of these hopeful calls for democracy by Islamist leaders in Iraq and Tunisia. Reconciling democracy and sharia (Islamic law) is not always easy. But at least two countries are showing signs of hope that bear watching.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.